Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson provided a long-awaited update at Tuesday night’s Edmonds City Council meeting regarding the next steps for hiring a police chief. “We’ve been reviewing applicants for a search firm and are currently in contract negotiations with one,” Nelson said, adding that more details would be provided “once we’ve completed those negotiations.”
Edmonds Economic Development and Community Services Director Patrick Doherty had said on Jan. 7 that the mayor would be providing an update “in a day or two” on the search process.
While the search goes on, it’s unclear what will happen to the acting chief assignment that has been held for a year by Assistant Chief Jim Lawless. That assignment expires on Jan. 22 and an extension is subject to city council approval.
A year ago, when Nelson initially launched a search for a chief to replace Al Compaan, who retired Jan. 1, 2020, the city hired California-based Public Sector Search & Consulting, which focuses exclusively on recruiting police executives. Their contract with Edmonds totaled $28,500, although the city paid out only $6,422 when the search was cut short due to the COVID pandemic. In April, Nelson announced he intended to make Lawless the permanent chief, but the city council voted to require a search process, which resulted in a job offer to Sauk-Suiattle Tribal Police Chief Sherman Pruit. That job offer was rescinded after application discrepancies came to light, and the mayor promised to conduct yet another search.
In other business Tuesday night, the council watched the virtual swearing-in ceremony for new Edmonds Municipal Court Judge Whitney Rivera. An Edmonds resident who graduated from Edmonds-Woodway High School, Rivera was sworn in by former Municipal Court Judge Linda Coburn, who was elected in November to the Washington State Court of Appeals.
“I’m eager to serve the City of Edmonds,” Rivera said. “I’m here to serve the community where I grew up and live.”
The council also reviewed and provided comments on a second draft of a Council Code of Conduct. The document was originally proposed last summer by Councilmember Laura Johnson, but after some council pushback it was revised by a subcommittee comprised of Johnson and Councilmembers Luke Distelhorst and Vivian Olson.
Distelhorst began by providing background on the process, noting that the council passed Resolution 1306 in December 2013 adopting a new Code of Conduct that applied to the mayor, councilmembers and all members of city boards, commissions, committees or work groups. The new conduct code would replace Resolution 1306 for councilmembers, but 1306 would still apply to the other parties, he explained.
You can see the entire draft two-page code here.
Subcommittee member Laura Johnson then read over the code’s first section:
6.1 General Conduct
A. Councilmembers shall focus discussions and debates on vision, policies, and their implementation.
B. No Councilmember shall dominate proceedings during Council or other public meetings.
C. Personal, insulting, or intimidating language, body language and actions, are not allowed. Councilmembers may raise a point of order for ruling by the Chair or by the Body to address inappropriate remarks.
D. Ensuring that all meeting participants feel welcome is a vital part of the democratic process. No signs of partiality, prejudice, or disrespect should be evident on the part of Councilmembers toward any individual participating in a public meeting. Every effort should be made to be fair and impartial in listening to Council, staff and public testimony and discussions.
E. Technology allows words written or said to be distributed far and wide. Councilmember written notes, voicemail messages, texts, email, or other electronic communications, are public records and shall follow this code.
Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said she worried that item C was “extremely subjective” and suggested it be rewritten. She also recommended that language be included that the council conduct business “in an open and transparent manner” and that the council “allows vetting to take place during a public setting.”
Council President Susan Paine said that while she understood that C could be viewed as subjective, she pointed to Roberts Rules of Order, which requires “decorum inside debate.”
Subcommittee member Vivian Olson presented the second section:
6.2 Conduct with City Staff, the City Attorney, and the Council Legislative Assistant
A. The community is best served when the abilities, experience, and knowledge of staff and contract employees work alongside councilmembers, and councilmembers will value these resources and relationships by:
1. Using respectful language and tones;
2. Whenever possible, provide questions ahead of public meetings and otherwise avoid surprises;
3. Recognize that calls and emails may not be returned outside of business hours;
4. Expressing concerns about performance only to the Mayor, in the case of staff, and the Council President, in the case of Council legislative aide and City Attorney;
5. Understanding that Council, as a legislative body, directs City business via policy change initiated by majority Council vote only; councilmembers acting individually shall refrain from directing staff or otherwise intruding on the City’s administrative functions.
“I have significant problems with this whole section,” Councilmember Kristiana Johnson said. In particular, Johnson said, she opposed the code spelling out how council should conduct themselves with staff members, stating that should come from the mayor.
“I truly believe that no councilmember should be talking to the mayor about the performances of staff, period,” added Buckshnis. “That’s not our job.”
In addition, related to point 5, Buckshnis said that she wants to feel free to talk directly to the city attorney without telling the council president about it.
Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas countered that during her time as council president, she received complaints regarding councilmembers “overstepping their bounds” during interactions with staff. The draft code of conduct more clearly clarifies the councilmembers’ roles “in terms of legislative rather than administrative,” Fraley-Monillas said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t talk to staff.”
Then Olson continued with the third section:
6.3 Conduct with Boards, Committees, Commissions, and Outside Agencies
A. The City maintains several boards and commissions as a means of encouraging and gathering community input. Residents who serve on boards and commissions are a valuable resource to the City’s leadership and shall be treated with appreciation and respect.
B. Councilmembers are appointed as non-voting members to serve as the primary two-way communication liaison between the Council and boards, commissions, and committees. Councilmembers are not to direct the activities or work of the board, commission, or committee.
C. Councilmembers may attend any board or commission meeting to which they are not appointed but shall do so as a member of the public. Personal comments or positions, if given, will be identified as such and shall not be represented as the position of the City or Council.
D. Councilmembers shall not contact a board or commission member to lobby on behalf of an individual, business, or organization. It is acceptable for Councilmembers to contact the board, committee, or commission members in order to clarify or contextualize a position taken by the body. When making contact the relevant Council liaison should be included in such communication.
E. When attending a non-city sponsored event, meeting, conference, or other activity, a Councilmember may be authorized to represent the Council only upon a majority vote of the Council. Likewise, a Councilmember may be authorized to represent the City only upon the express permission of the Mayor.
Councilmember Kristiana Johnson said she believed that point D “is too restrictive. I have a problem when we’re not allowed to discuss a potential action or policy with a board or commission member. I just feel that this hamstrings the council about how we can talk to people.”
The final section, read by Distelhorst, addressed implementation, compliance and enforcement.
“When a breach of this code occurs, councilmembers are encouraged to remind one another of the Code of Conduct terms,” the draft code noted.
Subcommittee members agreed that they would take another look at the language to see if it can be modified to address councilmembers’ concerns.
Also during the meeting, the council approved an amendment to a legal services agreement with Zachor & Thomas, the Edmonds law firm that serves as the city’s prosecuting attorney. The council also authorized the Lighthouse Law Group to negotiate an additional amendment that addresses data tracking of the law firm’s workload now that the city has suspended third-degree Driving While License Suspended (DWLS) citations.
And it approved the waiver of six months of rent — from January to June — that the city normally charges the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce to rent office space on the first floor of city hall. The waived rent is $713 a month, for a total of $4,278
Two other items of note from the end of Tuesday’s meeting:
– Nelson announced he would be presenting a State of the City Address next Thursday, Jan. 21 at 6:30 p.m.
– During their council comments, all councilmembers decried last week’s violence that occurred at both the U.S. and State Capitols. Some councilmembers also specifically referenced the verbal and written attacks that they had been subjected to in recent weeks, related to recent publicity surrounding the failed police chief search and charges of racism in Edmonds. “What do you call the refusal of some to acknowledge such incidents of hate and bias?” Councilmember Laura Johnson asked. “What do you call repeated bullying and intimidation? What do you call the posting of fliers all around Edmonds in a gaslighting attempt to shame elected officials because they acknowledged that racism exists here in Edmonds?”
“If we do not acknowledge it, then how can we expect it to change?” Johnson continued. “Whether it is the inequities and injustices embedded within issues of health care, housing, policing, social services, environmental protection and more, we must be willing to listen and to aknowledge that the impact is not the same for all of us.”
— By Teresa Wippel